Two Singers Almost Overwhelm Intimate Morgan Space

January 25, 2013

United StatesUnited States Dowland, Poulenc, Barber, Mozart, Schubert, Gluck, Weill, Gershwin: Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor), Emalie Savoy (soprano), Ken Noda (piano), Morgan Library, New York City. 13.1.2013 (BH)

Dowland: “Come again,” “What if I never speed,” “Fine knacks for ladies”
Poulenc: Banalités
Barber: “Rain has fallen,” “Sleep now,” “I hear an army”
Mozart: “Bella mia fiamma, addio!”
Schubert: “Liebesbotschaft” and “Ständchen”
Gluck: Final Scene from Armide, “Le perfide Renaud me fuit”
Weill: Jimmy’s aria from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Gershwin: “Let’s call the whole thing off” from Shall We Dance

Founded in 1971, the George London Foundation awards grants to talented American and Canadian opera singers, and presents an annual recital series in the acoustically marvelous Gilder Lehrman Hall at New York’s Morgan Library. On this occasion, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (filling in for an indisposed Matthew Polenzani) and soprano Emalie Savoy partnered with pianist Ken Noda, alternating to create a beautifully considered afternoon. Mr. Griffey, who has wowed audiences in Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men and Britten’s Peter Grimes, has a lustrous instrument that he uses shrewdly.

In the opening set of three John Dowland songs, from the very first words, “Come again,” Griffey’s voice almost seemed to dwarf the room. (A friend of mine has remarked about the “freakishly large voices” that thrive in the Met’s cavernous space.) Yet later in the song he added not only volume but depth of texture to subtly emphasize the stanza with “My faith is ever true.” And his enunciation was so exact that the texts weren’t needed.

In a Samuel Barber set, Griffey showed his exquisite pianissimos in “Sleep now, O sleep now,” but then turned galloping and heroic for “I hear an army charging upon the land,” adding some of the bitter, angry edge that made his Grimes so memorable. In “Liebesbotschaft,” the first of two Schubert old friends, he glided effortlessly over the voluble piano part, done to perfection by Mr. Noda, and in “Ständchen” the singer turned the song’s melody into a gentle heartbeat. Griffey slightly darkened his voice for his stunning final solo, Jimmy Mahoney’s aria from Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

Ms. Savoy, who was seen last year in The Makropulos Case at the Metropolitan Opera, also has a large, dramatic instrument, perhaps deployed most effectively in her final solo, “Le perfide Renaud me fuit” from Gluck’s Armide. Her grand, accusative tone was in stark contrast to Poulenc’s Banalités, which opened her set. I especially liked her languorous reading of “Hôtel” (“I don’t want to work, I want to smoke.”), her little yelp in “Voyage à Paris” that could have come from a breathless 16-year-old, and the delicacy she found in the long lines of “Sanglots” (“Sobs”). In Mozart’s “Bella mia fiamma, addio!” (“My beautiful love…Stay, oh dear one!”) she effortlessly scaled the peak in the final lines—and impressively, offered her own translation in the printed program.

To close, the two combined for a playful version of Gershwin’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” with Mr. Noda—as he had been the entire afternoon—the kind of pianist singers dream about.

Bruce Hodges

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